Author: Matt W.
Spring of 1988. I’m eighteen and trying to decide where to go to college. Having grown up in San Francisco, I’ve never been east of the Rockies or west of Manhattan. I’ve got three choices…UC-San Diego and UC Berkeley in-state, and Washington University in St. Louis out of state. Eventually my curiousity gets the better of me, and having never been anywhere near the Midwest, I decide to spend the next four years of my life in St. Louis. Officially it’s because Washington University has a top-notch medical school and I’m planning on becoming a pediatrician. Unofficially it’s because I’ve become a hockey fan (in large part thanks to the Miracle on Ice), and unlike Berkeley or San Diego, St. Louis actually has a hockey team.
Fast-forward to the next fall. I find out that Wash. U has a club hockey team and show up to the first practice. It becomes painfully obvious that Californian that I am, I cannot skate well-enough to play even at this low level. However, the coach takes pity on me and allows me to practice with the team, and even better, allows me to become the team manager/assistant coach. Now this may not sound like much, but this is a position with major side benefits. You see, because the school does not have it’s own rink, it’s plays many of it’s games at the St. Louis Arena before St. Louis Blues games…and I’m in charge of distributing the 200-400 free tickets we get for each game. Having been to exactly zero NHL games in my life to that point, this was pretty damn cool. Needless to say, my grades suffered as I quickly became a die-hard Blues fan, but that’s no even the beginning of the story.
About two-thirds of the way through the season, the LA Kings come to town to play the Blues. Generally speaking, our games ran from about 4:30-6:30, allowing time for the ice to be resurfaced after we finished and the Blues and visiting team to take the ice for warmups at about 6:50. Usually, whichever team was playing the Blues that night would arrive at the Arena between 5:30-6:00, early enough that the players would often wander out from their locker room to watch the end of our game.
On this night, we’re cruising to a comfortable win. I look up with a few minutes left and notice that a handful of Kings players are standing in the tunnel to the visiting locker room watching. Smack dab in the middle of them is the Great One himself…Wayne Gretzky. I ask our coach if I can leave the bench early and go get his autograph and he says sure. The only thing I have at hand is my spiral notebook and red pen with which I’ve been charting shots and jotting down other notes. I leave the bench, walk over and introduce myself, and ask for an autograph. Not only does the Great One give me his autograph, but even as our game ends and his teammates start to wander back to the locker room to put on their uniforms, he stays and talks to me for a few minutes.
As Mastercard might put it…..value of a Wayne Gretzky autograph….$50….value of getting to talk to Wayne Gretzky about hockey 1-on-1 for five minutes….priceless.
And that’s what I think all the people spending hundreds and/or thousands of dollars on artficially “scarce” autograph cards don’t get. It’s not the scarcity of the card or even the autograph itself that it truly valuable (after all, most players have/will sign thousands of autographs in their lifetime). It’s the experience of getting an autograph in person that is the one thing which cannot be replicated or replaced. It’s the story behind how you acquired it that gives an autograph it’s true value, not the signature itself.